Awards given to recognize efforts in battle against Parkinson's disease

by Tom O'Connor, UNMC public relations | October 28, 2015

The Nebraska Neuroscience Alliance at UNMC is applying a full court press against Parkinson's disease, and a broader array of neurologic and neuropsychiatric disorders is in its cross hairs. 

Formed in 2011, the NNA is made up of neuroscientists in the UNMC departments of neurosurgery, pharmacology and experimental neuroscience, psychiatry and development neuroscience in the Munroe-Meyer Institute.

On Oct. 22, more than 300 NNA members and community supporters came together at the Scott Conference Center for the NNA's annual awards banquet under the leadership of Drs. Shelley Smith, Chris Kratochvil, Ken Follett and Howard Gendelman.

Nebraska ranks fourth in the nation with the highest number of citizens per capita with Parkinson's disease.

Three awards were given to groups who are committed to helping overcome Parkinson's disease. Honorees included:

  • The Parkinson's Health Development Foundation;
  • The American Parkinson's Disease Association; and
  • The Alan and Marcia Baer family.

The Parkinson's Health Development Foundation has been the focus of the Wuebben family, which has held 24-hour skate-a-thons the past eight years to raise awareness and support for Parkinson's research and families receiving clinical care. The past five skate-a-thons have been held at the UNMC Ice Rink.

Colleen Wuebben was diagnosed with Parkinson's at the age of 52. She died in 2013 at the age of 60. Even after Colleen's death, her husband, Ted, and their five children have continued to hold the 24-hour skating event. Since moving the Skate-a-thon to UNMC in 2011, the event has raised more than $140,000. An all-time record 540 skaters participated in 2015.

Through the efforts of the Nebraska chapter of the APDA, Nebraska was the first state in the country to have a Parkinson's registry. The registry identifies people with the disease, tracks disease clusters and attempts to determine environmental triggers.

The APDA assists 24 support groups in Nebraska that allow people within the Parkinson's community to socialize and learn about the disease and find support.

Since 1997, the Baer family has provided financial support for neurodegenerative research at UNMC for Parkinson's and HIV/AIDS. The funding has been the spark that has moved research from the pre-clinical phase to a now nearly completed phase I clinical trial.

The Baers created the Early Career Innovation in Neuroscience Award to help young investigators jump start their careers. This year's award was given to Minglei Guo, Ph.D., and Tomo Kiyota, Ph.D., both instructors in pharmacology and experimental neuroscience.